Sleeve notes for the Kronos records release of CHRISTUS Music by Marco Frisina.
The film CHRISTUS was released in 1916, it is a silent movie which tells the story of the life of Christ from the Virgin Mary’s visit from the angels telling of his coming, to his birth and through his early life and onto to his betrayal by Judas, the crucifixion and his resurrection and his ascension to the Kingdom of Heaven. The film is divided into three segments which are referred to as mysteries. The first of these includes the birth of Jesus, the Magi, Herod and the slaughter of the innocents, the escape to Egypt and Pilate. The second part takes in the preaching of the Jordan, the expulsion of the merchants from the Temple, the adulteress and his entry into Jerusalem. The third Mystery, is itself then divided into three separate parts, which are The Passion, The Death and The Resurrection.
It is a stunning and emotive motion picture which I found difficult to stop watching. Directed by Giulio Antamoro and Enrico Guazzoni (unaccredited, after he was brought into the production to re-shoot certain scenes), Guazzoni was no stranger to Biblically slanted movies as it was he who worked on the 1912 version of QUO VADIS. Antamoro also co wrote/adapted the story for CHRISTUS collaborating with Ignazio Lupi, the film is I suppose a general telling of the Messiah’s life and deals with all the major occurrences that are told of in the Bible.
The picture contains some interesting special effects which were in their infancy at the time of the films production, and these were by all accounts greatly appreciated by audiences who were astounded at the use of them having not seen their like before. One scene which stands out for me personally is the sequence where we see Judas being haunted by a horned spectre like figure which could either be seen as Lucifer tempting and coercing him or even his own conscious haunting him the figure manifests itself on three occasions to Judas, the final time is when we see the disciple hang himself and the earth opens below him revealing the fires of hell, either way the effect is superbly carried out and convincingly purveyed. The other thought provoking thing is that the star of Bethlehem is shown clearly as not a star at all, but as a comet, which could I suppose be conceived as Halley’s comet which reappears at certain times in world history. Also during the period when Jesus spends time in Egypt during his early life we can clearly see the SHPINX which at the time of the films production had still not yet been fully uncovered.
The crucifixion scene is also impressively filmed as is the sequence leading up to it where we see Jesus carrying his own cross through the streets being mocked as the King of the Jews a crown of thorns spitefully pushed onto his head and being pushed and flogged by his escort and jeered at by the watching crowds.
CHRISTUS was beset by problems after filming and although production began in 1914 the film did not receive its premiere until 1916, this was due to sections of the film being damaged and made unwatchable during the editing stage. The version of CHRISTUS that we see today was restored by the renowned Titanus films founder Goffredo Lombardo who made it a labour of love because it was his Mother who took the role of the Virgin Mary in the movie. The film was shown at the 57th Venice Film Festival with the soundtrack being adapted for live performance on two pianos. The musical score for the movie which was added in 1999 is the work of acclaimed Italian composer, scholar and Monsignor Marco Frisina. The Maestro has fashioned a work that is filled with celestial magnificence, highly emotive and inspiring thematic material and plaintive and poignant passages which are embellished and complimented by dramatic and powerful compositions.
Being a silent movie the music is almost continuous and adds much to the dramatic and emotional content of the motion picture, written for large orchestra and choir the composer has provided the film with a work that is not simply a musical wallpaper or background it is an important and vitally integral part of the story telling process and not only underlines and supports the images but acts as another component expressing to audiences the emotion the melancholy and also the powerful fearsome and foreboding elements that are required for such a story. The composer also utilised a style not dissimilar to the ancient Gregorian Chant repertoire for certain scenes and sequences which added another dimension to the proceedings and further underlined the deep spiritual ambience of the film and story.
Frisina is no stranger to scoring movies and has written numerous scores for films that have a religious content, but he is also responsible for scoring an equal amount that have storylines which are removed from the religious world. The composer also writes music which is not confined to the restrictions of motion pictures and television his credits include music especially composed for the Vatican that include Operas, Oratorio’s, Masses, songs, hymns and recordings dedicated to Saints and Pontiffs. He has also collaborated with many artists most notably Ennio Morricone on film and television soundtracks.
Frisina was born in Rome in 1954, at the age of 11 taught himself to read music as well as playing the piano and composition. He studied at the Conservatory at Saint Cecilia, and was awarded diplomas in conducting, piano and composition. He completed his theological studies at the Pontifical Gregorian University and earned a certificate in Sacred Scripture from the Pontifical Biblical institute. He was ordained as a Priest on April 24th 1982. This is the first time that the music for CHRISTUS has been issued on a compact disc, and is an important release and one that I hope will be the first of many of Frisina’s works to be released on the Kronos records label.
John Mansell © 2016. Movie Music International. IFMCA.